My mother is 85 years old. And she was in love with Paul Newman. And this morning, as my mom lies in the hospital dealing with pneumonia, we learn that Paul Newman has died, succumbing to a long battle with cancer. So ends an era.
Like many women “of an age,” my mother’s heart went aflutter as she shared Newman with me on the screen, practically swooning at his blue eyes, calm and steady demeanor, gravelly voice and acting prowess. It didn’t take much for her to convince me. I’m sure that my propensity for actors with an intense style and equally intense blue eyes has much to do with my early exposure to Paul Newman.
As a kid, I remember seeing Newman (and doing a bit of swooning myself) in Exodus as David ben Gurion stand-in “Ari ben Canaan.” Then came The Hustler, Hud, and Harper, and as I was a teenager, Newman paired with Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and one of my favorite films of all time, The Sting. Every role, whether serious, romantic, or comedic, he played with a characteristic twinkle in his eye that never faded, even as he aged and his film roles came to us less frequently. Each decade seemed to bring us new characters as Newman aged from romantic heart-throb to character actor, almost passing the heart-throb mantle to Redford.
The 1980s brought us Absence of Malice and the fabulous The Verdict; and the 1990s Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (with his long-time wife, actress Joanne Woodward) and Hudsucker Proxy in which he played the fast-talking (in an exceedingly fast-talking film) Sidney Mussburger. In all, the legendary Newman starred in more than 80 films, creating a indelible catalogue of antiheroes and romantic heroes.
Of course, Newman was much more than an actor. He was an avid race-car driver and fan of the sport. As well, he was active in progressive politics and social causes. Years ago, starting a food packaging label called Newman’s Own, he put his own money behind an effort to build a socially conscious brand, eventually putting his name behind hundreds of organic products in the line, including popcorn, salad dressings, snack food—and even pet foods. Newman’s Own and the foundation created by Newman donates “all profits from the Newman’s Own brand, and royalties after taxes for educational and charitable purposes.” According to the brand’s website, “Paul Newman and the Newman’s Own Foundation have given over $250 million to thousands of charities worldwide since l982.”
He will be missed by his fans and friends, and all who have been touched by his film career and his philanthropy – from 85-year old ladies like my mom to the children whose lives his generosity has helped to improve.